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Small states can develop niches in public administration, says Gibraltar at Commonwealth Public Service Ministers Forum

28 October 2012
Consolidation and specialisation can address inherent challenges

Small states can capitalise on their smallness to improve niche areas in public administration, turning challenges into opportunities, said Gibraltar’s Minister for Enterprise, Training and Employment, Joe Bossano.

He told Commonwealth News in an exclusive interview in New Delhi, India, that other countries can learn from the experience of Gibraltar on ways to make the best of their situations.

Speaking on the sidelines of the Commonwealth Public Service Ministers Forum which, took place in the Indian capital from 24 to 26 October 2012, Mr Bossano said that as one of the smallest territories in the Commonwealth, Gibraltar is able to exercise flexibility to meet the challenges brought about by the rapid change in our globalised world which impacts on economies and societies.

“If you are in a small rowing boat, you can change course very quickly. If you are in a big oil tanker, it takes a long time before you can turn the ship around,” said Mr Bossano.

 “Small economies have the capability of adapting quicker to change because of their size, and my advice to small countries would be that survival depends precisely on flexibility and the ability to adapt. Gibraltar had to go through some changes in our history because at one stage, British military spending in Gibraltar was 60 per cent of GDP. To date, it’s four,” said Mr Bossano.

While other countries in the European Union are in recession, Mr Bossano pointed out that Gibraltar has been able to buck the trend as it has been able to address problems more swiftly. He added that studies on issues impacting the citizenry can produce more accurate findings due to the small population and geographical size, which will enable governments to develop tailored solutions.

“In an average figure of the standard of living of a big country, you may well hide much bigger disparities of wealth than in a small country. The average in a small country is likely to be more representative because your sample is smaller than in a big country. In terms of the advantages you have, the closer you can get to a particular problem - to the extent that you may be talking of hundreds or thousands of people instead of millions - the greater you’re likely to be accurate in the solution that you are finding. The bigger the size of the population that you are addressing, the more you are to work by “guestimates” rather than by very accurate estimates,” explained Mr Bossano.

He pointed out that large countries comprise of small states or provinces. Data garnered from every town, village or city may vary on growth rate or unemployment. Mr Bossano said the statistics produced by a large country often reflects the national average figures.

For this reason, he said small states should not try to adopt the policies and practices of a larger state to scale down for local application, as the contexts and circumstances are different. He said best-fit practices and solutions for public administration and good governance are better approaches towards developing efficiency and effectiveness.

“Big countries are doing things in a particular way while small countries have to do them in the same way, but in smaller quantities. Quite often big countries have no choice but to do things in a big way. But in small countries, one of the big benefits that you have is that you can personalise it. One-size-fits-all is wrong because in a small country, you can put names and faces to people. They’re not just statistics. Therefore you can individualise any programme that you’ve got in the knowledge that you know the direct beneficiaries of that programme,” said Mr Bossano.

To improve the quality of public administration while addressing the challenges of human resources, the Government of Gibraltar has streamlined its operations by merging various departments handling related work under one roof.

“One of the things we’ve done in addressing human resource constraints has been to combine what was previously three separate independent ministries. The investment function was under the Department of Trade and Industry; the training function was under the Ministry for Education; and then there was the employment service under the Ministry of Employment. What we have done is to amalgamate the three, and therefore I am the Minister for Investment, Training and Employment,” explained Mr Bossano.

“In the first stage when we’re having proposals for investment, we’ll not only examine the contributions that the investment is going to make in economic activity, but also the demand for labour that will be generated and the skills that will be required. If the investor needs to import labour because the labour with the necessary skills is not found in the market as it stands at the moment, part of the negotiations in relation to the investment will include a commitment on the part of the prospective employer to undertake training so that the local labour can be upskilled and eventually replace those that are brought in on temporary contracts to do the work.”

The consolidation of related areas of work under a single portfolio, he said, will facilitate a more comprehensive approach that will ensure that issues are not being looked at only through one-dimension when a ministry may be interested solely in attracting investments, but may not necessarily be thinking about the impact on the labour market.

“We have addressed this by ensuring that there is a one-stop shop where the investor has to discuss the value and the consequences of the investment, the labour requirements that it will generate, and the skills mix that may require training.”

Mr Bossano said one of the lessons to be learned from other countries was the need for public service administrations to assess the relevance and quality of services delivered to citizens today, and to examine ways in which they can meet the needs of citizens in the future and continue to play an important role in promoting growth and employment.